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Name: Andrew Dalgleish
Organisation: Victorian Principals Association
Andrew Dalgleish is President of the Victorian Principals Association, representing approximately 1200 government primary, P-9, P-12 and specialist school principals, comprising over 380,000 students in Victoria. He is a member of the Australian Government Primary Principals Association executive.
Andrew has been a primary school Principal for over 25 years, having worked in various rural and regional locations within Victoria during this time. Throughout his career as a school leader, he has focused on developing teacher, middle leader and school leader capacity for impact. He has developed strong connections with school communities and worked as a contributor within the state education system.
Andrew has a passion for education and the critical importance of equity to support opportunities for all children regardless of their background.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Bringing staff teams and other leaders on the journey.
Most importantly in schools, it is also bringing the school community on the journey as well.
School principals are community and system leaders in their own right, they are on their own pathways and this must be acknowledged and respected.
Clarity of communication and strong, purposeful relationships are significant. With hindsight, I am not certain that I had the clarity in my early leadership career.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I began my leadership journey in education as a bright eyed and I think naïve 25-year-old teacher. An opportunity arose where I was asked to consider applying for an acting Principal position in a small rural school of 88 students. I had not even contemplated leadership at this stage, although had been involved in local leadership development activities being conducted by school principals in the area. Strangely enough, I had commenced as a prep student at 4 and a half years of age at this school, before my parents purchased a farm 6 months later and I then attended a 1 teacher school for the duration of my primary school education.
I see myself having landed in a leadership role by accident to some extent. I am incredibly fortunate to have been supported and encouraged by many school leaders in my early career as a school leader.
This support and encouragement continue today with colleagues and peers. Their feedback is critical in ensuring I am representing school leaders well in all I do. This representation is not just about school leaders, but also about representing students and communities.
I see ongoing, just in time coaching and mentoring as critical for any leader as they build capacity and confidence along their leadership journey.
Most importantly, the support and encouragement of my wife and family has been critical. Their understanding and love have been major factors in my being able to do a job that I love, as often, it has placed significant pressure on family life.
I reflect on my early career as an ‘accidental’ leader and feel that it would be almost impossible to undertake this type of leadership journey in education now, due to the increased pressure and demands of the work. I also feel that leadership development opportunities are far greater and much less is left to chance than it was in the mid 1990’s. For this I thank the Victorian Department of Education for their focus on leadership development at various career stages.
Over 25 years as a school leader, along with periods of time between 6 months and 3 years of working in Regional Offices, and the Department of Education Central Office, I have returned to school leadership. I felt that this is where the greatest connections are made with students. I have valued the opportunities to work outside of schools in my career and it has certainly allowed me to further understand the importance and the role of the broader education system.
I am incredibly privileged to be able to represent Victorian primary school leaders. This position is an elected one and every two years I am required to stand for election. I am confident, that if I am not meeting the expectations of our members, I will certainly hear about it. The most important part of my work is listening clearly to school leaders, and being able to amplify their collective voices to influence our education system to be even better than it already is.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I have recently changed by behaviours and routines at the end of the day to try and have far better sleep patterns due to the nature of the role I am in. Waking at 3:00am to scan media stories for the coming day and start on emails is defiantly not being balanced. I have also found setting a sleep schedule on my device blocks emails and notifications coming in between 9:00pm and 6:00am. I am then not tempted and roll over and go back to sleep.
I am an early morning person and am still usually awake by 5:30am. 30 – 45 minutes of exercise is important and I try to keep this routine regardless of my travel schedule. Breakfast and then into emails, reading and meetings throughout the day.
Similar to being a school leader, no two days are the same in my role as President of the Victorian Principals Association. While the use of video conferencing may have been a benefit of the pandemic, I believe we need to get a balance now, as many people think that it is ok to have online meeting after online meeting. My diary is critical in ensuing I am organised, I allow sufficient time for travel between meetings, or I can be working in a space with complements online meetings. Sitting in a car park and using an iPad is not ideal…
I generally try to be home, or off line by 6:00pm each day, however I am not always successful at this.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
This is not a recent leadership lesson, but one I regularly come back to due to the significance it has had on my career.
As a relatively new school leader in my late twenties trying to establish myself with colleagues and peers, I was often quick to share my opinion and views.
Five years into this journey, my Assistant Regional Director at the time advised me that leadership is not all about you as the individual. I reflected on this and about six months later I sought further clarity from him about the importance of allowing others to lead, prompting others to take the lead and more often than not, being the last to speak. I see leadership very strongly as a verb and also as a team sport. It cannot be done alone.
To this day, I still catch myself when I am about to interject with an opinion in meetings, and then questioned more deeply to understand and draw out ideas and concepts. I feel this has approach made me a far better and more inclusive leader.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Leadership as an Art – Max DePree was given to me as a 25 year old in my first principalship.
I remember vividly a quote which has stuck with me for many years… “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
For me, this quote returns to the importance of clarity once more.
More recently, The Third Space by Dr Adam Fraser. It resonated strongly with me as I utilise the concepts and tools in this to transition between meetings, from work mode to personal life, and to ensure that I am more present in each of my meetings.
While trying to focus on three steps, there is a complexity about it in ensuring that you create time between each activity to practise it.
Those three steps:
1 – Reflect on the meeting, or activity,
2 - Rest – turn off and relax and
3 - Reset – what is my intention in this meeting and making sure I am present. Most importantly to be home and present for my family.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Listen to understand and don't be in such a hurry.
Take the time to get to know your staff, students and community. Allow them to get to know you and be open and honest with them about why initiates are to be introduced, seek their input and encourage others to lead. Oh, and as I learned many years ago from Max DePree, say “thank you” often!
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Prior to COVID-19 I felt that I had become stuck to my desk. Following the end of the first lockdown I made an effort to be back out at the front of the school at the start and end of each day and spending more time in classrooms with staff and students.
I was back speaking with and listening to parents, students and staff. Listening to concerns, discussing our collective work together and sharing the excitement of staff and students as they achieved success.
It once more reminded me of the 3 R’s of education…Relationships, Relationships. Relationships!
I believe that these 3 R’s are not just for education, but for life, as it is the quality of the relationship we build with our people that determines the success of our endeavours.